Monday, April 19, 2010

Flushing Contretemps

Last week the NY Daily News focused on the ongoing controversy over the building of Flushing Commons-but the info that our friends at Parkside would lead the fight against the project doesn't appear to be correct: "If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? If you're a merchant about to do battle with a major development known as Flushing Commons, that would be the Parkside Group - one of the most influential consulting firms in the city."

Our own take is that the Parksiders will sit this one out-and given their propinquity to the powers that be in Queens, this is probably a good thing. Taking on the battle against this over development-one that involves a breach of faith by the city and EDC over the original agreement with former council member (and now comptroller) John Liu-will involve bumping ugly with some powerful development proponents; and Parkside's skillful insider status would prove to be as much of a potential drawback as it would be an asset.

Still, the growing opposition to the development is becoming a looming threat to the hoped-for success of developer TDC: "The $800 million plan for a complex of condos, shops and a YMCA set to be built atop a municipal parking lot got a thumbs up on April 5 from Community Board 7. But area business owners aren't raising the white flag just yet in their fight against the controversial project."

The first important obstacle to overcome? Belief in the project's inevitability: "Every week goes by and I hear the developer talk about this great place, but they're killing us little by little," said Ikhwan Rim, a jewelry store owner and president of the Union St. Merchants Association. "I feel very hopeless because nobody is helping us."

Well, perhaps not no one: "The community's efforts don't have potential unless they are able to find traction among the affected Council members," said lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who has met with Flushing merchants but has yet to be retained by them. Because the final vote in the land use review process lies with the Council, opponents of the project must appeal to elected officials across the city if they want the plan to be tweaked, Lipsky said."

And just how will they be able to do this? Gee, isn't this project being built on land that is currently publicly owned? And isn't the sale price below market rate-an indication of a level of public subsidy? Ipso facto, shouldn't the slated 250,000 sq. ft. of retail space be subject to the same living wage requirement that the folks up at the Kingsbridge Armory insisted on? Hmm.

In addition, the way in which this development is being structured, it could well prove to be a knife in the heart to the area's vibrant, but struggling, small businesses. Why? Because as planner Paul Graziano has pointed out, "The developer will introduce a ‘validation’ system – under which local businesses will likely be forced to pay for at least part of their patrons’ parking fees or lose business to other business areas."

And the parking provided-lower than the number agreed to by Liu-is inadequate for the amount of traffic that Flushing Commons will generate in the already gridlocked downtown. As Garaziano goes on to explain in his fact sheet on the project: "Loss of adequate, competitively-priced parking will very likely lead to serious job losses and small-business closings in Downtown Flushing.

• A ‘validation’ system will amount to a new tax imposed on small business in Flushing,
as they will be compelled to subsidize customer/client parking to remain competitive.

• After the sale, as things stand now the developer will legally be entitled to deny parking
to local businesses in favor of his own tenants, or charge non-tenants higher rates."

And then there is the issue of the traffic itself-as WPU's Brian Ketcham warned the CB #7 in the public hearing it held. As we pointed out at the time: "WPU's Brian Ketcham provides this futuristic glimpse in his testimony for tonight-and underscores by doing so how these developments are promoted without really acknowledging all of the companion development that is occurring in the surrounding neighborhoods..."What I have found in my review for Willets Point United is that the FGEIS for Willets Point failed to fully account for Sky View Parc and ignored the effects of Flushing Commons. In fact, there is little evidence that the FGEIS accounted for many of the 90 new developments surrounding the Willets Point Iron Triangle. You folks approved a project--Willets Point--that vastly understated its traffic impacts and still reported gridlocked traffic conditions. Clearly, adding another 800 to 1,000 car and truck trips from Flushing Commons in the PM peak hour to an already gridlocked Main Street will simply make life for you folks that much worse."

But we just know that Bloomberg's own Sadik will have the answer to this gridlock-more bicycle lanes, no doubt! Seriously, though, the mayor's sustainable propaganda just doesn't survive even a cursory look at the kind of development he is promoting. What Queens in particular needs is a moratorium on development and an independent traffic study of the potential cumulative impacts of all of these planned developments.

The result of this kind of study, we believe, would frighten all of the Queens civic groups who are concerned with maintaining the quality of life in, not only their own neighborhoods, but in the borough of Queens as a whole. The mayor needs to be called to account for all his green doublespeak.